Sunday, January 27, 2013

Yin State

Painting by Isabelle Bryers

Over the weekend I watched the excellent indy flick, “Jeff Who Lives at Home”, and it prompted me to think about all of the different ways there are to be lost—emotionally, spiritually, creatively, in careers and in relationships, and in the most literal form of the word--being lost in physical space.

For a long time now, I have felt lost creatively. But over the last several weeks, I’ve come to embrace the lost. I think that I'm supposed to be lost right now. I think it's important for some reason that I can't see at the moment. And I’ve noticed that if I just accept this state of being lost—if I just let it be, rather than desperately try to impose my will upon it, find a way out, and “make” something happen--that things actually do happen creatively. Surprising, interesting things that never would have occurred if I hadn’t come to embrace this unfamiliar land I find myself wandering in. 

The prospect of getting lost, physically or otherwise, has always terrified me. But I am coming to see that there is power in being lost. There is power in existing in a state of not-knowing, of having no answers, no foregone conclusions, no assurances, and no real sense of the outcome. I have stopped fighting it, and have instead decided to explore it, to feel its textures, and see what it has to offer. And I find that I’m enjoying the drift, the sense that all possibilities are open and that I don’t yet know what is unfolding for me creatively, only that something is.

Creativity has its own mysterious sense of timing. And instead of panicking or falling into a depression, I am simply remaining open, slowing down, letting go of the need to produce, produce, produce, and instead, allowing for what may to come to me. Paradoxically, by slowing down and entering into a state of receptivity, as opposed to taking action for the sake of action, creative problems have been much easier to solve. Plot issues in my novel are fixed in an intuitive flash. Poetry comes to my ears and I transcribe it. Ideas for new short stories come, or don’t come, and either way it’s okay. 

I feel that I haven’t been gentle enough with my creativity, that I have been beating it with a stick, yelling at it, and frightening it away. Creativity is like a cat. A cat doesn’t like to be pursued, or picked up and squeezed and petted against his will. But if you sit still and breath calmly, the cat will find his way to your lap in his own time.

I’m just as caught up as everyone else is in mistaking activity for effectiveness; in believing that action is always superior to non-action. Even as one part of me is learning how to be in this state of receptivity, another part of me is savagely opposed—how dare you? Who do you think you are? You can’t just walk around waiting for things to “come to you”! You have to make it happen! You can’t call yourself a writer if all you’re doing is observing things and waiting for some non-existent magical spark to go off in your brain! You’re just lazy, that’s all.

We live in a society in which Making Things Happen is a moral mandate. We pride ourselves on how busy we are, on how much we “get done”; on how exhausted we are by the constant demands on our time, by how productive we are expected to be. We want everyone else to know how frantic our lives are and how we can barely keep up and how there is just so little time and how fast we are moving to juggle everything. And we all nod and agree with each other and walk away feeling morally superior, and never really question if all of this frenetic action is actually leading to anything of real value. 

But a key part of the creative process is the opposite of all of this. It requires stillness, quiet, and waiting. It requires that we respect its terms and its timing. It demands we calm down long enough to hear it. If we're constantly noisy, and constantly in motion, we'll lose out on its gifts.

One day, I want to say, “I don’t believe in being busy. In my world, there is always an endless supply of time, and more coming every day. I have time to listen. I have time to observe the world. I have time to do absolutely everything that is it important. And most of all, I have time to wait.”

--Kristen McHenry

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